As the era of music patrons and their unworldly dependents fades into the past, a new generation of artists like Charles Stier and Gary Louie takes on a One-Minute-Manager practicality.
Music is an industry -- as Stier, a clarinetist, and Louie, a classical saxophonist, well know. Neither is waiting around for the gratuitous gestures of a modern-day Esterha'zy, and neither is seeking the security and conformity of the orchestral life.
"No one is going to take care of you just because they love the way you play," says Stier. He is a realist and finds that "it's a very healthy way to live." This realism translates into a "do-it-yourself" approach that most recently manifested itself last night in a Stier-Louie recital at the Kennedy Center. Without the Washington Performing Arts Society, without a backer, without anything but their own initiative, Stier and Louie, both in their late twenties, booked themselves at the Kennedy Center.
After the two arranged a program spotlighting the classical saxophone and the clarinet, Stier remembers thinking, "We have a great concert, now where's the greatest place to play it?"
The Terrace Theater was the obvious choice. "So we sat there and said, 'Okay.' Then it was a blast," Louie remembers. "Charles called me and said, 'Are we gonna do it?' I said, 'I'm up! I can handle that.' "
So Stier just picked up the phone, called Helen Hamm, the Terrace Theater's booking coordinator, and set up a date.
Chutzpah and musical talent can have no better reward than a full house: Last night Stier, Louie and their accompanist, Brian Ganz, played to a standing-room-only audience. Tickets had sold out eight days before the concert.
According to Stier, "You can't just say, 'Okay. We are giving a concert, here's a check, see you on March 16.' No, no, no. The check just buys you the right to have the concert, but you have the opportunity to mess it up yourself, if you want."
Exercising the right to have a concert is not cheap: Rent at the Terrace Theater starts at $1,250 for one evening. What comes next could be called "utilities" and when those are totaled, the ballpark figure for a no-frills concert is $3,000.
Louie claims not to have "tremendous business savvy," but both he and Stier admit to having spent a lifetime, as musicians, exercising discipline. They simply transferred the discipline of daily five-hour rehearsals from music to business.
They set up a six-month schedule of deadlines and met them all. They dealt with photographers, designers, printers, editors, typesetters, telephone switchboard operators, box office people, piano tuners and anybody else who could contribute to the success of the concert.
"If you want to ignore the deadlines, they'll go away. They will just walk on by and you'll be left standing there," says Stier. "We started six months ago, because we needed to find out what the mechanism was to produce the concert . . . and it has been fascinating to learn what steps have to be taken and how to produce a major concert in a major hall."
One unexpected spinoff from the project has been the expanded awareness of behind-the-scenes aspects of their own profession. Usually, Louie explains, "People hire us. When we go out of town, we get off the plane, have a rehearsal and play a concert. Everything has taken place before we even get there. It gives us a little greater appreciation of what people have done."
And what if they had lost their shirts?
"We could have lost a little bit," says Louie, quickly adding that, "We never had an idea like that. From the very first day, I never felt a feeling of anxiety or anything. It's like we visualized that this concert would be sold out, and we just approached it that way."